I remember thrashing my head to metal when I was a teenager. I remember the moment when I let the music take me; I felt the guitar howl through my head and the drumbeat in my very bones. I am not sure I feel that much anymore. Maybe when I am alone in the car, I might crank Metallica or Tool. But it never entirely is the same as when you were 19, which is a tragedy.
Grady Hendrix’s book, We Sold Our Souls is about a lot of things: love for music, love for horror, or the state of mental and emotional health in the US. But what sang for me in this book is losing that connection to music, the kind you have when you are 19. Losing that emotional part of you that vibrates from the energy of the music is one of the saddest things, and it is a kind of horror in of itself. Wrap all of those ideas up, loss, the love of music, passion, and the plight of the middle class into a pulsing metal package, and you have We Sold Our Souls.
Right from the start, you do not have to love thrash metal to appreciate any of the ideas in this book. You could substitute Klezmer music in for metal, and it will ring true for some people. It is not so much what type of music you like, but being able to connect with the music itself. Even though Hendrix speaks at length about Metal music, you can substitute anything you are passionate about.
In this case, the story revolves around the members of Dürt Würk, a semi-famous metal band from the 1990s. Specifically the incredibly badass and beat-down Kris. Kris is to Dürt Würk as Slash is to Guns N’ Roses. She is the shredding lead guitarist that gets on stage and apologizes to no one. Kris is authentically herself, a metal-loving girl with bloody fingernails, sweat dripping down her face, and music that sings out from the dark parts of her. She is all that is metal.
“No one loves me! Boohoo! Guess what? We play fucking metal! I don’t want to sing about your sad feelings! I want dragons.”
– There are no butterflies inside her.
We Sold Our Souls starts with Kris early in life, as a teenager, confused, and all attitude. She wants to play the riff from Sabbath, and she bleeds herself through the first chords until it sounds right. And for one glorious shiny moment, Sabbath was in her basement. She is hooked. Next, we meet Kris at 47 years old. The end of a career, and her soul, living in her mother’s house working at a Best Western. The first scene of this is hilarious and sad. A naked man with a pillowcase over his head comes into her office and pisses all over her desk. He then farts and leaves. Her brother, who is a policeman’s first question is not “are you ok?” His first question was, “Jesus Kris, couldn’t you clean this up?” It is sad, and it shows how much she has fallen from her former life as a guitarist.
“it is possible to be crazy and paranoid and totally insane and still be right. Maybe the problem with everyone is that the world has become so insane they’re not out of their minds enough to comprehend it.”
You can tell that Kris’s life is shit, but she can still fight. “I can pick a fight in an empty fucking elevator. “No one left to fight.” Fuck you”
The brilliant thing about this story, and what sets it apart from other rock-themed stories, is that instead of the story being around a young idealistic Kris at the beginning of her career. It is about Kris at 47 and broken. It is a much more exciting story because Kris is much more complicated. The story progresses as Kris’s former bandmate, and ex-best friend Terry Hunt decided to headline a farewell tour for his band. The ex-best friend that betrayed her and the other Dürt Würk bandmates years ago. Kris decides that it is time to get the band back together. To say that she runs into resistance from all sides is putting it lightly. Her quest takes her on a reunion with the bandmates: guitarist Scottie Rocket, bassist Tuck, drummer Bill, and finally Terry. She is on a one-woman quest to figure out what the hell happened on the night it all fell apart with only her grit and ax of a guitar to help her. She battles egos, band managers, the supernatural, and crazed fans. It is an epic fight.
But this is marketed as a horror novel, you say? It is. We Sold Our Souls is a horror novel. Hendrix wrote one of the scariest chapters in a cave that I have ever read. I am claustrophobic, and I had to put the book down for a while before I had a panic attack. Kris deals with a lot of violence and gore. It is almost Viking death metal in its visuals. Also, much of the story has the subtext of the death of dreams. It is much scarier and more visceral than some creature or ghost yelling “BOO” at you. The loss of dreams is a hollowing out of oneself, and it is not something someone can easily come back from. People settle for recreations of things instead of working for the real deal. People even sell their souls for iPhones. It is sad, but the way Grady Hendrix writes it rings true.
“I can’t believe that after a lifetime of playing metal, it turns out the world is a shitty country song.”
We Sold Our Souls is a gritty and real story, highly entertaining, and it tapped into that part of me I thought I lost long ago. The part that vibrates and roars when I hear Sabbath or Metallica. It is there still, and I love that Hendrix shined a light on it. We Sold Our Souls is also a story about who we choose as our family and how they can hurt us or help us grow, and it is, above it all, about the transcendent power of music because music cures all.
Buy We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix